Early and Saidy set out to find women in science for the girls to interview in the community by emailing professors at the local university, reaching out to mothers of their children’s friends, and cold calling public and private community businesses. One student was particularly interested in speaking with an oncologist. “I tried multiple connections to no avail,” Saidy wrote in the journal article. “I talked to physicians and nurses I knew, called a local children’s hospital and talked to the community outreach coordinator, and even sent emails to unknown oncologists.” She eventually found a pediatrician who was willing to be interviewed. Although the interviewee was not an oncologist, the student “was happy to talk to a pediatrician who could tell her more about the differences in training, professional practice, and lifestyle differences between a pediatrician and pediatric oncologist,” Saidy wrote.
This kind of flexibility and thinking on one’s feet is what it takes to make projects like this happen. It also takes “the sense that it is possible and that the world beyond the classroom walls is available for and cares for students,” the team wrote.
The women who agreed to be interviewed were thrilled to be of help and expressed enthusiasm and interest in the project. For example, when Early reached out to a pediatrician by email, she responded, “I would love to participate! This is such a cool project!”
Students were delighted and surprised by the interview responses from their paired women in science. The engagement with the women scientists from the community made this project more than an assignment and, instead, something students were deeply invested in, responsible for, and connected to. An archaeologist, for example, wrote back to one of the girls who had asked about her career trajectory, fears, and obstacles to meeting her goals. In her email, the scientist talked about the challenges of being a first-generation college student, studying chemistry and archaeology as a woman, and traveling alone to Bolivia, Peru, and Chile to excavate archaeological sites. “However,” Saidy later wrote in a journal article on the experience, “[she] also made it clear that a motivating factor for her in her career is providing access for other women. She wrote: ‘One thing that motivates me is the importance of being a role model as a scientist who is also a woman. I didn’t have many examples of that growing up, and even in college and graduate school I wasn’t sure it was possible to be a scientist and also be a parent and well-rounded person. I really love being a scientist, and a woman, and a parent, so I want to show others, especially girls and women, that it is possible.’”
Students held agency throughout this process, from selecting the kind of scientist they wanted to interview, writing interview questions, and initiating, conducting, and writing up the interviews.
“This whole workshop reminded me of what it means to set students up for success,” Early wrote in the report. “We, as researchers and teachers, have the opportunities to provide students with valuable, real-world literacy opportunities to expand their visions of what is possible in their future lives.”
The workshop will have lasting impact. The Intersections team has created curricular materials to share widely with others. They are creating a two-week intensive camp for girls on writing and science, with the hope of drawing in more high school girls. They are also making new partnerships with informal science educator groups. “This program will create new bridges between the university and the community, between [our project] and the science community at ASU, and adolescent girls and women scientists in Arizona,” the team wrote.